Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Error World

I’ve started reading The Error World by Simon Garfield. It isn’t a crime novel (although crime fiction does get a mention, including in particular a novel by a thriller writer I’ve never heard of called Vernon Warren), but it is a book about obsession, and that is what caught my attention, for obsession is at the heart of much of the best crime fiction.

I mentioned this quite recently in connection with K.O.Dahl’s Norwegian cop Frank Frohlich, but most of the great detectives from Holmes onwards have been obsessives of one kind or another. So have many of the great villains of our genre. So a book which explores the way in which an obsession can capture an otherwise perfectly reasonable individual is, to my mind, almost bound to be of interest to a crime fan.

The Error World concerns Garfield’s obsession with philately – collecting stamps that are rare simply because they have printing errors. It’s one of those confessional memoirs that are all too common nowadays – I saw with dismay recently that W.H.Smiths now have a rather large section devoted solely to what they describe as ‘tragic life stories’. Books of that kind don’t have much appeal to me, but Garfield’s book is in a different league, not least because he and I are of similar vintage and in my youth I too collected stamps (although never forking out the vast sums which Garfield invested when the hobby really took hold of him in adulthood.)

On the evidence so far, this is a well-written and interesting book, which explores the nature of this particular obsession pretty thoroughly and does a good job of trying to explain it to those who have never been bitten by the same bug. I’m really enjoying it.

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